Bacterial persister cells are highly tolerant to antibiotics and cause chronic infections. However, little is known about the interaction between host immune systems with this subpopulation of metabolically inactive cells, and direct effects of host immune factors (in the absence of immune cells) on persister cells have not been studied. Here we report that human granulocyte macrophage-colony stimulating factor (GM-CSF) can sensitize the persister cells of Pseudomonas aeruginosa PAO1 and PDO300 to multiple antibiotics including ciprofloxacin, tobramycin, tetracycline, and gentamicin. GM-CSF also sensitized the biofilm cells of P. aeruginosa PAO1 and PDO300 to tobramycin in the presence of biofilm matrix degrading enzymes. The DNA microarray and qPCR results indicated that GM-CSF induced the genes for flagellar motility and pyocin production in the persister cells, but not the normal cells of P. aeruginosa PAO1. Consistently, the supernatants from GM-CSF treated P. aeruginosa PAO1 persister cell suspensions were found cidal to the pyocin sensitive strain P. aeruginosa PAK. Collectively, these findings suggest that host immune factors and bacterial persisters may directly interact, leading to enhanced susceptibility of persister cells to antibiotics.
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